Dave Wain’s essential breakdown of this week’s cavalcade of straight-to-disc treats. Step inside the DTV Junkyard…

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas there, synonymous with the Carmarthernshire town of Laugharne, which is the very location where we open this edition of DTV Junkyard with THE CURSE OF HALLOWEEN JACK.

Admittedly the films of prolific Welsh auteur Andrew Jones don’t share too many similarities with the Whiskey-chugging icon, but nevertheless it’s a rare opportunity to shoehorn a little culture into what will a little later descend into a sweat-stained orgy of meagre-budget mediocrity.

Rewind twelve months, and as the end credits rolled on The Legend of Halloween Jack (2018), you’d be forgiven if ‘sequel’ wasn’t the first word that crossed your mind. For those who missed it, we found ourselves in the sleepy town of Dunwich (horror references are weaved into much of Jones’ output) where a group of vigilantes had lynched the notorious felon Jack Cain after he escaped conviction, only for him to return from beyond the grave and exact revenge on the folks who killed him.

The sequel takes us back to Dunwich, but it advances everything two years where we discover that Mayor Boyle (Phillip Roy) has banned all Halloween celebrations from the town, but with kids being pesky, a group of rebellious youngsters decide to laugh in the face of danger, and go ahead with some spooky shenanigans.

The Curse of Halloween Jack is far superior to the first movie. Everything moves at a more sprightly pace, while the various facets of the narrative overlap with cohesion and purpose. The defiant kids are the undoubted highlight, and the party sequence in particular manages to blend tension and witty dialogue (some of the writers’ best) to great effect. Tommy (Alastair Armstrong) and Glen (David Lenik) could well be my favourite characters in any Jones movie to date, while the latter being the directors’ first openy gay character is a welcome embrace for a minority that’s still barely represented in our beloved genre.

The film does lose a smidgeon of momentum in the final reel as the Mayor’s daughter Danielle (Tiffany Ceri) hooks up with the grizzled, eyepatch-wearing Duke Tanner (Peter Cosgrove) to take Jack down, but overall this should be a film to convert a grumbling army of naysayers into begrudged admirers of the Celtic Charlie Band.

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The purpose of DTV Junkyard has always been to draw attention to the orphaned children of genre filmmaking. Y’know, the ones that never get to FrightFest, and those that don’t have the backing of an ad campaign or a clique of Pied Piper style Twitterati to laud them; THE HAUNTED is a shining example of this.

Written and directed by thirty-year veteran of the small screen David Holroyd, this subtle British chiller tells the story of Emily (Sophie Stevens), a young girl who in her quest for a wage has turned to caring for the elderly. Under her stewardship tonight is the dementia-ridden Arthur Cunningham (Nick Bayly), who for the most part is bed-bound and catatonic, although he is prone to rising from his pit in order to take a leak in a non-existent toilet.

As convention dictates, Arthur lives in a cluttered and labyrinthine old house in the middle of the country, while Emily has a barely containable curiosity to explore her short-term lair. However, despite the beats in this home-grown horror being positively predictable, they’re admirably effective. Holroyd uses his wealth of experience behind the camera to maximise the opportunities for dimly-lit suspense, and Stevens manages to balance her characters naivety with a healthy dose of likability in what’s a sincerely tough gig, as the success of the film arguably rests on her shoulders.

For a picture that in the most part has a degree of plausibility to it, the introduction of a Ouija board in the final third elicits a weary roll of the eyes, but minor criticisms aside, a brisk running time (seventy minutes) is always the friend of a micro-budget horror, and The Haunted never outstays its welcome.

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HALLOWEEN AT AUNT ETHEL’S treads the notoriously tricky ground of bridging comedy with horror and comes up short. The titular character is part fable, part reality, where a kooky member of the community is adjudged to spend her October’s making Halloween candy from the body parts of kids who have the temerity to doorstep her for a little trick or treat – so naturally a group of local adolescents venture out to investigate the authenticity of such a legend.

The main issue with Joseph Mazzaferro’s film, which he both writes and directs, is the time it takes to actually get anywhere. For the first half hour you’d swear you stumbled on to the set of some ribald eighties sex comedy, as we’re bombarded with boobs, boners and bonking – which all feels desperately dated and drearily dull.

Alas, it’s worth remembering that it’s not 1986, and while Halloween at Aunt Ethel’s isn’t an outright failure, it IS a missed opportunity. The nucleus of a really cool idea is in there somewhere, but Ethel herself, played by Gail Yost, is far too cartoonish (and young) to be considered a threat, while Mazzaferro himself commits the cardinal sin of delivering an unfunny comedy with no scary moments. On the plus side it’s only sixty-five minutes, albeit with a vehement warning underlined in thick black marker pen to venture no further than the closing credits, for fear of being subjected to a rap video from the cast that will forever haunt your dreams.

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And so to Latvia, a destination yet to be visited by the DTV Junkyard, albeit one that forms the setting for WELCOME TO MERCY, a well-shot if rather dour affair which sees Madeline (Kristen Ruhlin), a single mother, return to her native country to visit her ailing father. However, upon experiencing symptoms of the stigmata, she finds herself packaged off to a nearby convent with precious little opportunity to see her young daughter, Willow (Sophia Massa).

The desolation of this Baltic location is underlined from the get-go as Madeline makes the wintry journey home, and it’s here where the film excels as it’s clear that director Tommy Bertelsen has a fine eye for mood and atmosphere, notwithstanding a slightly overbearing darkness that makes the interpretation of certain scenes a little difficult.

Though Welcome to Mercy demands a genuine nod of respect, the melancholia that drips from its pores may prove a little too wearing for the casual horror fan, while those in the mood for a weighty rumination on Catholicism with a hint of the supernatural are likely to feel short-changed too. It’s a tough sell and an even tougher recommendation, but hopefully Bertelsen’s film finds an audience somewhere, as irrespective of its flaws, it’s too good to drift off into obscurity.

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When it comes to the films of Steven M. Smith, I’m at the very least persistent. For those who haven’t been following this intolerable journey, I first encountered Smith three years ago where after watching Haunted aka Ghosts (2013), I called it “Bland, forgettable and interminably dull”. Even my old friend Kevin Matthews when writing for Flickfeast said “We need a series of these films like a chocolate teapot needs extra time to warm up on the hob”. Once bitten, but twice wasn’t all that shy, as The Howling (2017) did little to enamour the London-born filmmaker to me, but in the wake of his outrageous chart run for The Haunting of Borley Rectory (2018) (a baffling eighteen weeks), the five pound price point on his latest proved too much for my curious sensibility.

Shot in four days, SCARE ATTRACTION opens with actor Jon-Paul Gates (introducing himself as JP) taking us on a guided tour of a Halloween hot-spot which is populated by an ensemble of amateur actors who are about to welcome reality royalty, as arriving for a little promo gig are Pete and Susie, the stars of small screen hit show Love’s Nest. However, these new-found-famers soon find themselves trapped in an escape room before being gassed, strapped to a chair and charged with a fight for survival.

From that synopsis, this slice of micro-budget mayhem sounds vaguely appealing, and to be perfectly honest it’s probably the least painful experience of my Smith-themed odyssey so far. Having said that, it’s still a turgid affair full of unlikable characters that you care little about, and hope to spend the minimum amount of time in the company of. It’s a shame, as it’s clear that there’s an artistic eye lying deep with the director’s psyche; one shot in particular of a girl in pigtails, lit from the back and moving in slow motion, is one of the most visually satisfying moments of the week. That said, the end credits rolling just past the hour mark are nevertheless a welcome sight, albeit one that comes with markedly less relief than previous outings.

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All the film’s featured in this weeks DTV Junkyard were released on UK DVD on 14th October 2019


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